EDITOR'S NOTE: As distributed generation proliferates, utilities will need new three-dimensional understanding of their assets as they migrate to new business models. The Energy Times sat down with Philip Mezey, Itron president and chief executive, to discuss the change ahead. This is the first of a two-part series. Next: "The Nexus of Grid Awareness."
ENERGY TIMES: As the electric universe moves towards a more distributed model with much more touch points what are the main technical hurdles that have to be cleared?
MEZEY: The underlying technology exists today. There’s going to be a lot of refinement that goes on. If you ask me do we have communications and sensing technology that will enable that environment, I would say yes, that technology is available. Do we have all the control systems and algorithms that are going to be required to properly understand what’s going on, dispatch and control that environment? People are talking about distributed resources with a paradigm of central computing. I find it upsetting when people keep talking about big data and how we’re going to deal with this distributed environment. I see a disconnect between the way we think about the technology we’re going to use and the problem that we’re facing. We’re used to designing central generation plants with central distribution of electricity and a radial network. Then we built cenl computing systems and think of communications as coming back to the center. We’re going to collect the data in one place, try to understand what’s going on in the field, and then send decisions back out into the field in order to solve problems. The paradigm is now shifting. We’re talking about distributed resources, but we haven’t been talking about distributed computing as much. I’m not sure that there’s as much thinking that’s going on in regard to distributed computing, peer to peer computing, to have the computing paradigm match the electric paradigm of what’s happening in the field.
ENERGY TIMES: How will the industry help utilities address that issue?
MEZEY: Putting intelligence into the end device and making it possible to actually distribute applications and control to the edge of the network is a very positive step. You’re starting to see efforts to control microgrids and islanding and elements of the grid control themselves in a distributed fashion. Companies like ours are providing enabling technology and opening up the system in a way in which we can collaborate with an ecosystem of partners to deploy distributed systems. But it’s going to take a change in thinking about big data. The notion of collecting the information, making decisions and distributing answers is going to change. We will be able to actually diagnose what’s going on out in the field at the edge of the network and come up with answers and possibly even take action. Some really interesting changes are going to take place.